Not all fats are bad for you. In fact, replacing the bad with the good is better for your health than having none at all. However, with so many options out there, from olive oil to lard, choosing the right fats can get tricky. Whether you are baking, stir frying or drizzling oil on your salad, we have selected the best fats that fit.
All fats are created equal when it comes to calories, running at 9 calories per gram. For example, a teaspoon of olive oil contains 45 calories, so even if you are using the healthiest oils, you still need to watch the quantities you use. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain, which can ultimately lead to bad health.
Another thing to consider is the effect that different types of fat have on your body. The worst kind for your heart is trans fat. Most trans fats we are exposed to are not natural. They are produced as a result of the hydrogenation of vegetable oils, such as in vegetable shortening, or as a result of deep frying, such as in French fries. Due to their harmful effects, trans fats should be completely eliminated from your diet.
Saturated fats come in next, and are found in butter and lard. These fats should be limited to about 7 percent of your fat intake - in other words, have very minimal amounts.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs), found in most vegetable oils, are good for you in moderation. These include the renowned heart-healthy omega-3 fats as well as omega-6 fats. Because we usually have sufficient amounts of omega-6 in our diet due to its abundance, most people should focus on getting their omega-3s.
One of the healthiest types of fats is Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (MUFA), found in olive oil, so you should get plenty of it. From improving your blood cholesterol levels to supporting healthy blood vessels, MUFAs have enormous benefits for your body.
Oils come as a ratio of more than one type of fat. For example, corn oil, the most popular cooking oil, is rich in PUFAs but not so rich in MUFAs or omega-3s. It contains 25 percent MUFAs, 62 percent PUFAs and 13 percent saturated fats. The ratio determines how healthy the oil is.
Choosing fats wisely
Unfortunately, it is not just a matter of getting more MUFAs and omega-3s and less saturated and trans fat. It is also about ensuring the oils you choose stay healthy after they have been cooked with. When cooking at different temperatures, you want to use oils that can resist the heat you are exposing them to and do not reach smoking point. Oils smoke at different temperatures due to their chemical makeup, at which point they begin to produce toxic fumes.
Deep frying: Deep frying is not recommended, but if you are craving French fries, fry them with refined olive oil. Standard olive oil has a low smoking point and cannot be used for frying, but the light or refined version can. That is because the more refined the olive oil, the higher its smoking point, which means it can resist deep frying. Olive oil contains a good amount of heart-healthy MUFAs.
Baking, oven cooking, stir frying: A good option is canola oil, which is rich in MUFAs and very low in saturated fats. Another great option is peanut oil because it provides a nutty flavor, although it is slightly lower in MUFAs.
Sautéing, low-heat baking: Try walnut oil, which is a great source of omega-3. Pumpkin seed oil is another great omega-3-rich option. Coconut oil, which is trendy nowadays, should be used in limited amounts due to its high saturated fat.
Drizzling over food: If you want to drizzle oil over hummus or salad, extra virgin olive oil is best. Another great option is omega-3-rich flaxseed oil.